Project Gratitude: Week Four

Hi all,

I would like to tell you that we have been well here in the Q (that’s what I’m calling the quarantine because it makes me feel like I am at a trendy restaurant instead of at home in dirty pajamas with a bunch of sickies).  In the past two weeks, all four of us have had to visit the doctor, three out of four of us have had fevers and are on antibiotics, and one out of four us had an emergency root canal and an oozing-infected eye.  Our house sounds like a cacophony of coughing, nose-blowing, whining (me), and an occasional wince (dying tooth).  All this while worries about the coronavirus lurk in the crevices of my head that aren’t already filled with infected sinuses.  In addition, we have implemented a new homeschool regimen, a work from home office, and an innovative exercise regimen of video games, backyard pacing akin to caged zoo animals; and playing keep away from the pollen that won’t keep away.

Still, there have been bright spots — praying the rosary as a family; the intimacy of Sunday mass at home; a birthday boy to celebrate; and time sitting outside just being.  I appreciate the simplicity of this life in the Q, the perspective it illuminates about what really matters, and the extra time it’s given me to be with my family — as germy as they may be.  For all of it, I am thankful.

Here’s what else I am thankful for:

LENT DAY 22:  I am thankful for teachers.  Most of us who are just days into our unplanned homeschooling gig, are feeling homesick for the nurturing, committed professionals we entrust our children to daily.

To the teachers:

What can I say?  Thank you seems too trite, like a mere nod to your efforts when you clearly are worthy of an embrace.  At the same time, that’s awkward isn’t it — to have all of us mamas hugging on you?  Besides, it violates social distancing guidelines.

What can I do?  Nothing I could buy could compensate you for the way you have stepped up, poured out, and gone above in your efforts to educate your students. (I know I should try anyway.)

How can I show you how much you have made a difference?  From teaching my children to love reading to showing them how we love others, you have shaped them.  From ordinary moments, you uncovered interests, carved out strengths, and careened them away from wayward paths by your own beautiful examples of Christ’s love.

When would I be able to tell you how much you staying after school to host clubs and sports and extracurriculars has given my children confidence, tenacity, and cherished memories with their friends?

Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  Likewise, I can never tell you where my gratitude ends.  It’s kind of like the last 10 minutes of class after a long day.  It just goes on and on.

LENT DAY 23:  I am thankful for my home.  I feel like I’m on house arrest with this quarantine and being confined to this space makes me realize how grateful I am to have it.  It’s a respite from life’s tilt-a-whirl spin — the place I feel most like myself.   It is freedom from all the world’s want. Content in the stillness of pleasures as simple as the cat folding its doughy body into a warm circle on my lap, I know peace.

Home shelters the love of my family; it shelters my heart.

 

LENT DAY 24: I am thankful for play.  I am thankful for big boxes that invite me inside – for spontaneity and silliness.  I am grateful for moments where everything isn’t serious or dire or urgent — when self-consciousness isn’t more important than self.

Play nice.  But make sure you play.

 

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” ~ Meister Eckhart

LENT DAY 25:  I am thankful for nature.  This is where words fail me because what God creates in nature is so organically stunning that my words feel plastic in comparison.  So I will silence my words and listen to the ants march, leaves rustle, breeze whistle, birds chirp, and blooms whisper.   And I will be awed by the glory of God.

 

 

LENT DAY 26:  I am thankful for technology.  Most days, I would rather complain about how it pings at me; how it makes my already fragmented mind feel like it has 100 more tabs open; how it brainwashes my children; and challenges my own self-worth.  But today, huddled around the television with my family watching Bishop Estevez celebrate mass I realized how much good technology makes possible too.

I am grateful that in this time of social distancing, technology connects us.  It reminds us that we aren’t alone. It gives us a platform to reach out to others, to offer encouragement, and to share our faith.

Let’s show Covid-19, how we Christians do viral by using technology to spread love to our neighbor.

LENT DAY 27:  I am thankful for birthdays.  Life is a gift.  Birthdays remind us to celebrate.  It doesn’t matter how many candles are on the cake, or if no one can find the matches to light the candles.  It doesn’t even matter if there is a cake.  Ice cream is more important anyways.  What matters is that we recognize that every life should be celebrated and every day is a chance to be a gift to someone else.

(Happy 15th birthday to my joy, Alex. He didn’t get a train-shaped cake or the learner’s permit he so badly wanted today, but he has a mama that loves him more than anyone on this earth. I would like to think that makes up for all of it!)

LENT DAY 28: I am thankful for joy. It is of God – a glimpse of what awaits. Unlike happiness, it isn’t fleeting.  We experience it in the people we love, the memories we cherish, and in our relationship with Christ.

Joy to the World isn’t just a song we sing during Christmas.  It’s a call to love that we answer as Christians.

 

What are you thankful for today?

Project Gratitude: Week 3

Hi all,

Not sure about you, but I feel like I am living in the upside-down.  Don’t know what that is?  My point exactly.

No one could have known of the additional burdens we would carry this Lenten season.  The hardships of homeschooling, working from home, self-quarantining, toilet paper hoarding, and compulsive hand-sanitizing.  There’s too much news.  Not enough news.  Too much togetherness.  Not enough togetherness.  It would be easy to list grievances instead of gratitude.  Still, in all the viral mess that has come from this pandemic, I am reminded of the many things that I have to be grateful for.  I hope you are too.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” 

~ Meister Eckhart

LENT DAY 15:  I am thankful for journalism.  Truthtellers.  Investigators.  Facts.  No bias and no bull.  It doesn’t always happen, but it is a great service when it does.  When we are better informed, we make better decisions; we make better citizens and communities.    Preserving the integrity of truth is paramount to a civilized society.

 

 

LENT DAY 16: I am thankful for hard conversations. Having an honest and uncomfortable conversation allows us to have healthier and more enjoyable relationships. Our feelings matter. Smushing down anger, hurt, and disappointment is like trying to deflate a balloon by sitting on it. It pops before it flattens. By letting go of our burdens, we are free to rise.

 

 

LENT DAY 17: I am thankful for food.  I hate being hungry.  Those who are around me hate when I am hungry too.  Still, I sometimes forget to be grateful for the abundance of food I have access too; the way it brings me together with people I love; and how it nourishes me so that I may live fully.

Now, if only I didn’t have to cook it!

 

LENT DAY 18: I am thankful for faith.  Schools, public events, and virtually life as we know it are under quarantine.  What a comfort it is to have faith that God will protect us, that his will for us is good, and that regardless of life’s uncertainty, we can turn to him during difficult times. Have faith that humankind will do all they can to prevent the spread of the coronavirus by spreading acts of love instead.

In other words, share your toilet paper. Read more

Project Gratitude: Week 2

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” 

~ Meister Eckhart

LENT DAY EIGHT: I am thankful for impromptu kindness.

This article is such a stunning example of impromptu ways that we good humans show love.  The more simple an act of love is — the more beautiful it seems to be.

LENT DAY NINE: I am thankful for life’s twists and turns.  It’s never easy to deal with the unexpected, the unwanted, or what feels like the unbearable.

It’s hard to walk in faith when we can’t see the next step.  But sometimes the twisty parts of life have a miraculous way of turning into something beautiful.

Trust the twist to bring you something better.

 

 

LENT DAY TEN: I am thankful for small businesses that give back to the community.

No glossy public relations material, no recognition in the newspapers, no oversized checks or inflated sincerity – small, community-minded businesses remember their roots.  They are vested in and genuinely care about the people they serve.  Often giving in-kind, from their own products or resources, or by donating their services, they remind us that we belong to one another.

It isn’t about how much they have to give but their willingness to share when they can.  It’s not corporate responsibility, it’s just caring.

Picture of Raymond Solomon of Solomon Ventures, whose generosity to different people and organizations — particularly Catholic Charities Jacksonville Camp I Am Special, has been such a gift to this community.

LENT DAY ELEVEN: I am thankful for a heathy body.  In my early thirties, a good friend of mine had terminal brain cancer.  She was a young mother whose whole life should have been ahead of her.  But it wasn’t.

At the time I was an avid runner.  I ran for her because she couldn’t.   I didn’t always love it.  Some runs were hard, hot, and endlessly long.  Still, I remembered what a gift these hard runs were – it meant I could feel the thump of my heart, the strength of my legs, and that my breath was ever precious.

It reminded me that I am alive and healthy and not everyone gets that.  It gave me pause to stop running and just be grateful.

LENT DAY TWELVE: I am thankful for Bishop Estevez.  During a newspaper interview in the quiet of an empty basilica, we talked about Jesus, immigration, and the role of the church and the individual.  Everything he said was worth quoting.  More so, it was worth living.

I could have sat there forever in the presence of the holiness he exuded.  He made me realize how badly I want to sit with Jesus someday, how much peace there would be then, and how the words we say are nothing compared to the conversation of hearts joined in God’s love.

LENT DAY THIRTEEN: I am thankful for mentors.  People who have nothing to gain that are willing to help someone who can never repay it are remarkable examples of Jesus’s selflessness.  Endless good comes from those who share their time and knowledge.  One of the most impactful ways to change the world is to give someone the tools necessary to do it.

 

LENT DAY FOURTEEN: I am thankful for transformation.  A dead tree becomes a work of art.    Hurt enables compassion.  Defeat is a catalyst for determination.  Sinners repent and become Saints.  Faith sows the bloom of a divine eternity.  Possibilities are endless and no one is without hope.

 

What are you thankful for today?

 

 

 

 

Lenten Project: Gratitude

I saw a post about giving up social media for Lent.  Of course, I get the spirit of this because I am on it too much myself — as a voyeur, not a participant.  The truth is I don’t like to post because it makes me feel squirmy and vulnerable and more like a middle-schooler than a middle-ager.   So, giving up social media would be easy for me.  It would be welcome.  It would have kept me comfortable.

Since Lent isn’t about being comfortable, I had this crazy thought.  Instead of giving up social media for Lent, maybe I should embrace it.  Maybe I should lean into it.  Be uncomfortable.  Get over it.  While contemplating whether that is self-sabotage or a good plan, I received a text from a Jewish friend who told me about a Catholic who plans to send thank you notes to different people for 40 days, and how that makes more sense to him than giving up cookies.

Of course, it makes more sense and is a beautiful gesture.  The world always needs more gratitude.  I have a dear friend who always says, “What if the only prayer we ever said was thank you.  Maybe it would be enough.”  (A variation of a quote attributed to the German philosopher, Meister Eckhart).

As part of my Lenten experience, I am posting on social media every day something or someone that I am thankful for.  Because I know everyone is not on social media and because I don’t have time to write for both formats during the Lenten season, my weekly posts will be the week’s compilation of gratitude.  I hope it inspires your own.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” 

~ Meister Eckhart

LENT DAY ONE:  I am thankful for the inspiration I receive from others in my life.  I am grateful for the way that God works in all of us, how he binds and connects us and how the good that is done in the world spreads beyond what we ever see.

LENT DAY TWO:  I am thankful for the chance to serve.  For a few weeks I have driven around with homeless care packets in my car made by a church circle I am a member of.  While I have seen people in need, I was never able to stop to hand out a packet – until yesterday.

It was cold and rainy and as I was passing a historic shopping area notorious for no parking, I saw an empty space and just beyond it– a homeless woman.  It wasn’t my intended destination but it was where I was supposed to be.  I pulled into the spot, got the bag out of my trunk and handed the pack of toiletries and snacks to the grateful women.  Being able to give on such a gloomy day, filled me with a light that shines regardless of the weather. Read more

Too Small Coffee Table; Too Little Faith

I am trying to center myself so I can do what I need to do and be who I need to be.  This never seems to have anything to do with my daily tasks that are so time-consuming.  Regardless of how centered I am, I still have to scoop kitty litter and make supper.  I have to do life.  Yet often, life feels more adrift than this anchoring I seek.

The need for centering pulls at me reminds me that my busyness isn’t my primary business. I sit with it sometimes and try to make sense of what is so urgent.  It’s uncomfortable and I have to fight the urge not to get in my car and drive to the store to look for a new coffee table.  I’ve decided my coffee table is too small for my living room and even though that involved a small measure of math, it makes sense to me.  This centering that I crave – not so much.  I know it’s God by its persistence and truth be told, it makes the distraction of the coffee table seem like a welcome muse.

Then, of course, I question why I can’t sit with this God I adore and listen to what I need to do and who I need to be.  Why do I resist?  Why do I let myself succumb to distraction?  God probably doesn’t think the six-inch difference in a coffee table is paramount to his plans for me.

So, I still myself.  It chafes this stillness that God commands.  I listen to the emptiness of this space and try to discern what is so relentlessly nagging at me.  Is God in the quietness?  The busyness?  The mundane?  The despair?  The spiral?  The spaces between it all?  “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”  (Proverbs 15:3).

Read more

The Search is Over: Finding Love in Him

I was in my car when the 1985 song, “The Search is Over,” by Surrender came on the radio.  I had not heard it in years and for a moment it reminded me of being a 13-year old girl pining over some boy or another who refused to acknowledge my existence in a reasonable way like a bouquet of flowers, box of chocolates, or a boom box blaring a romantic song outside my bedroom window.  (Then I remembered it was my Whitney Houston album I played at such somber times of adolescent angst – not Surrender.)

Lost in thought about those days when I would cocoon myself within my four lavender bedroom walls and lament my imperfect body, wardrobe, and life’s entirety, I had a most random thought of a certain guy.   He was never my crush, or who I fixated on when I drowned myself in pity, or whom I even had a fleeting thought when I sat idly and listened to sad songs about people who once knew love.  I heard the lyrics “The search is over.  You were with me all the while,” and I thought of God.  I was surprised at how my brain went from unrequited teenage infatuation to the essence of total and complete love that is God.

Yet it made sense to me because in the time since record albums were replaced with cassette tapes, and cassette tapes were replaced with CD’s, and CD’s were replaced with music subscriptions, and music itself degraded into some sort of homage to one’s booty — I’ve searched for many things.  I have searched for the perfect man, house, job, couch, school, church, outfit, plant, publisher, vacation, vocation, doctor, and dog.  I have spent so very much time on a search of some sort.  What I found is that none of it compares to my relationship with God.  In all of the searching that so often felt paramount to my satisfaction, to any chance of happiness, all I really needed was what I already had.  An abiding God, who faithfully stood at my side, humoring my distractions, patiently awaiting my many detours, and holding me upright despite wayward falls.  “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain,” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Read more

Smiling Hearts, Frozen Iguanas, and Viral Monkeys

Reality can be absurd.

During an unusual cold snap in South Florida, there were news stories cautioning people to watch out for frozen iguanas falling from trees.  Days later those stories were replaced by articles about people selling iguana meat – to eat.  I live in North Florida so when the temperature dipped, I only had to worry about covering my plants and wearing closed-toe shoes.  Still, I followed the stories about the non-native iguanas and the people who eat them.

More recently, I have been reading about sightings of non-native wild monkeys in the area and other parts of the state. Apparently, some of these monkeys are infected with a deadly strain of Herpes B.  These herpes positive primates have been known to attack when their territory feels threatened.  So, now not only do Floridians have to worry about being bonked in the head by a comatose iguana, or whether it’s actually chicken in our Brunswick stew or reptile meat, we also have to worry about diseased monkeys charging us.

And people think life here is just sandy beaches and lulling surf.

I often contemplate the absurdity of life. There is so much truth that reads like fiction.  So many realities that seem fantastical.  One of the biggest of which is that there exists a God who so madly loves us that he died for us.  Of all the ways he could have mesmerized, awed, and astonished us to show his love, he chose death.  I can’t say that would have been my pick.  On the surface, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that he willingly gave his life out of love for us.  When you contemplate the suffering that preceded his death, it feels as absurd as free-falling iguanas. “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8).  Much to the hindrance of my relationship with God, I have struggled with the reality of this truth.  How could he possibly know me so completely and still love me unconditionally?  How could he identify all my weaknesses and still want me?  How could he acknowledge all my failings and forgive me?   And my favorite wondering of all, how could he allow me to suffer when in a breath he could remove the entirety of the world’s suffering?

Read more

Pro-life: Pro-love

I was subbing for a first-grade class when I received a text message from an unknown number.  It was from a family friend’s college-aged daughter seeking help for her friend considering an abortion.  She knew that I had volunteered at the Women’s Help Center, a pro-life organization that supports women throughout pregnancy, and asked if I would be willing to speak to her friend so that she understood all her options.

Choice.

Of course, I said yes. As implausible as it is to think any of us has the right to terminate life, it is a legal choice in our society.  A choice that is clearly devoid of God who created us out of love and with the innate purpose to love. Taking God out of the miracle of motherhood feels illogical, but there are many who do.  Even biologically speaking, motherhood is the most natural thing in the world.  Not just our bodies’ ability to create life but the innate desire to protect, nurture, and sacrifice for our offspring.  In the animal and the human species, this is the norm, and while it is standard it is also fierce.  Everything else – including our own survival is secondary to the “it’s in our nature to nurture” phenomenon hard-wired in most living things. It hardly seems like a matter of choice.

Being in a room full of six-year-olds is a frenzy of joy.  They are dynamic, unique, curious, and flat-out funny.  They give spontaneous hugs, ask personal questions, listen attentively when a middle-aged woman talks about cats, and without hesitation trust you with their day. They are also complicated like the rest of humanity and will become increasingly so.  Even as an outsider, I can see their proclivities, strengths, struggles, and basic need to be loved and accepted.  They have a keen sense of the world around them.  They are paying attention.  They are fully alive.  Each one a choice.

By the end of that school day, I learned that the woman made an appointment to have an abortion.  She was still agreeable to speak with me and was supposed to call me the next day.  She never did. Her friend explained to me that she didn’t want to be talked out of her decision.  I called the young woman and assured her I was here if she wanted to talk, and would be after her appointment as well.  Not to judge or lecture or to act like a caricature of a pro-life Christian in all the variances of absurdity they are portrayed as – but just to listen.  My heart ached for the burden of choice this young girl carried.  It would sound condescending to say the woman didn’t understand her choice; presumptuous to say abortion will affect her deeply, and Pollyanna to say that if she has her baby it will be full of giddy laughter and flying unicorns, when I know how gut-wrenchingly hard motherhood can be. Everything that can be said can be construed as flippant, dismissive, over-simplified, insensitive, or unrealistic.  All the best words can come out wrong. Read more

Time to Act

During my senior year in high school, I had a small part in the school play, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.  My role was of the scandalous secretary who was presumably having an affair with her boss. I wore a tiny off the shoulder black dress and slung my waist-length hair around with a flick of my wrist while hinting to the more dutiful office employee about my clandestine relations.  That was almost 30 years ago and the only flicking of the wrists I do now is after washing my hands in the kitchen sink when I’m too hurried to use a dishtowel.

Unlike my children’s lives, mine isn’t particularly well-documented so when I came across an old VCR tape of the school play, I thought it would be fun to transfer it to DVD.  The decades-old recording had aged much like the cast of characters it chronicled.  Faces were a blur and I had to rely on sound more than sight to distinguish fellow classmates.  It’s odd to think back that far, at how young we were, how sure we were, and how unsure we were.   Dizzy hopes for the future dangled like a cliffhanger in the drama of our own lives.  One of the boys who had a leading role in the play passed away last year.  His grainy silhouette was punctuated by the boom of his voice.  His animated gestures and rhythmic inflections belied the premature hush that came upon his life.  It made me sad. Read more

Brave: Beyond Rollercoasters and Roaches

My son was on one of those whirling amusement park rides that circled the clouds like a frenzied dog chasing its tail.  Somewhere vertical in the sky he spun so fast that the metal contraption that contained him angled sideways – much like my stomach felt down below.  I could barely stand to watch him, and I fervently prayed he wouldn’t end up with whiplash or vertigo or otherwise be thrust into outer space.  I’ve always been the girl at the park who held the drinks, the jackets, and whatever else the “fun” people couldn’t take on the thrill rides.  I am okay being this girl. I don’t feel even the slightest pang of regret for my union with solid ground.  I hang out with squirmy toddlers in their strollers and watch pigeons as their heads bobble in search of food.

So, I don’t typically think of myself as brave.  That’s a word I associate with the kind of courage it takes to ride a rollercoaster or kill a roach without screaming and spastically throwing shoes. I am not that girl either. I yell for my husband, sons, and even the cats (who look at me in disdain as if I’ve just equated them with some kind of animal).   If no one is nearby, I resort to evacuating.  I figure shelter is overrated and the roach can have my residence.

This year, I aim to be brave.  This doesn’t have anything to do with rollercoasters or roaches, but instead, my relationship with God.  For the last several years, I have focused on surrender. Surrender is one of those words that is easily confused with defeat.  Yet in the battleground for our souls, Read more